Despite being an honor roll student, a sought-after portrait artist, and a legal secretary for a small group of lawyers, at sixteen and still in high school, I didn’t exactly glow with self-confidence. I had grown up without my parents telling me much about life off the farm. I trusted too easily, gave my heart too easily, and I certainly wasn’t wise to the grownup games people play.
The head lawyer, Jacob, had always been kind, fun, understanding, and caring. With the win of an important legal case, involving millions of dollars, he soon changed. By the end of my senior year in school, he hardly ever came to work. Two of the other male lawyers gossiped that he had opened a law practice in Salt Lake with an influential woman, however this woman had supposedly gotten him involved in drugs and alcohol.
I found myself dealing with clients without him by duplicating standard divorce papers, and when Jacob didn’t show up for meetings, I ended up forging his signature and signing as a witness, despite being underage, just to save his practice. The other lawyers were slowly leaving, looking for work elsewhere. I didn’t know what to do.
I finally turned in my two weeks’ notice, and Jacob wrote me a lovely recommendation. He began interviewing secretaries without much luck. Still today, I have to admit these were two of the worst weeks of my life. The woman attorney, Jenay, started coming out to our office. She gave me complicated, dictated documents to type up that I had no idea what they meant, let alone how to spell the words. In the small community we lived in, we had mostly done divorces and wills. She continually chastised me with a red pen. (I’m positive that’s why I don’t edit my writing with red to this day.) You have to realize this was before computers and word processors. Yes, I had an electric typewriter but you had to put in carbon paper to make copies. (I’m so old.) And, our dictation equipment was staticy.
Jacob’s behavior became more and more erratic as he tried to find a secretary who would do everything I had done and for the little pay I received. I was receptionist, typist, office cleaner, coffee maker and plant waterer all in one. With only a few days left of work and not knowing when or if he would show up for work, I made out my check through to the end of the week and left it on his desk.
The next day, after my half-a-day at school, I drove to work. Despite it being early afternoon, the door was locked. I pulled out my keys, went inside, and looked at the pile of work the high and mighty Jenay had left on my desk. I wandered in to see if my check had been signed. Nope. I shrugged, pulled off the cover on my electric typewriter, and turned it on.
I kept gazing out the window as dusk fell over the small town. The office was located just down the street from the liquor store and I had had one or two incidents with drunks wandering inside. I was just about to get up and lock the door when Jenay came in. She didn’t even speak or look at me, just headed down the hall to an office.
Shortly after, Jacob who had hired me, who had given me my first job, who had written that wonderful recommendation, and who I had admired and trusted also came in. He couldn’t walk straight. He ran into the corner of his office. He smiled, went inside, and accidentally banged his glass door shut. Moments later, Jenay joined him. I tried not to look up from my typing.
“Cindy, would you come in here?” Jacob asked.
I startled, having a bad feeling about this. I reluctantly entered his office. I could feel an electrical intensity in the room.
“Did you type this?” Jacob slurred.
Jenay handed him a document that he immediately thrust in my face. Every other word was circled in red.
“This is inexcusable. And, to top it off, you steal from me.”
Steal! What on earth was he talking about? With a roiling stomach, I listened to Jacob slur his way through a host of insulting accusations and lies. I fidgeted, kept rubbing my lips, tapped my leg, dry washed my hands, and stared at the floor. I never once thought of defending myself, telling him off, or confronting the both of them.
As his tirade went on, I peeked up and noticed the smile on Jenay’s face. I didn’t understand any of this. I had never met or associated with people like this before. I wanted to get up and bolt out the door, never to return. Jacob threatened to not sign my paycheck. Jenay hopped to her feet, turned, and gave me a devious smile over her shoulder before leaving. What had I ever done to her?
None of this made sense. All I knew was that I had never been accused of being dishonest in my life. I couldn’t figure out how someone could turn on you. I didn’t think about the alcohol or drugs. I’d had no experience with that.
Jacob made me redo the paycheck so that that night was my final day. I left in a flurry of confusion, insecurity, and tears. My understanding of what took place didn’t come for a long time. The event shaped my future and robbed me of my trusting innocence. A sense of security in myself didn't come for many years later.
Cindy A. Christiansen
Sweet Romance, Humor, Suspense...and Dogs!
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